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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6089

Mr RAGUSE (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, what are the implications of the passage of the government’s welfare reform legislation in the Senate last night?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. The government has introduced reforms in recent days for paid parental leave. We have introduced reforms in recent days concerning welfare. We have introduced reforms in recent days concerning the future of the telecommunications industry in this country. We have also introduced reforms that will bring about a national broadband network to service all households, businesses and other institutions in this country, including schools and hospitals.

The passage of the government’s welfare reform legislation through the Senate last night represents a significant step towards delivering both stronger economic management and a fair go for all Australians. This legislation makes welfare work by encouraging individual responsibility and fighting passive welfare. It also helps people from welfare dependency into work, education and training. It also makes sure that welfare payments are spent in the interests of kids.

There is no dignity in a life on welfare. The cycle of welfare can in fact be vicious, embracing our children and subsequent generations. Our strong view is that where there are rights there are also responsibilities. This applies in particular, and with no greater severity than, to the way in which we manage the children of our country. They have a right to be treated with fairness and it must be ensured that they have appropriate respect as well. We have a responsibility to treat others, especially children, with the same fairness and respect. We have a responsibility to make sure that children get the best chance in life; to make sure that our children are fed, housed, properly clothed, go to school and see a future for themselves.

The legislation that we have introduced through the parliament and that was passed last night introduces income management to fight the insidious and destructive impacts of passive welfare as well as increasing personal responsibility. We will fight passive welfare and link income support to school attendance, study and work. Income management ensures that more welfare is spent on life’s essentials like food, clothes and rent and less goes to alcohol or drugs. The legislation provides for greater assistance to families to help them manage their finances to put them on a stable footing so that they can provide for their families and move forward into work or training.

The legislation demands that responsibilities of parents are met. They have the responsibility to make the right decisions about the important things life, such as education, health and the wellbeing of kids. We are working with parents, starting in the Northern Territory, to build a better life for kids, for young people and for families. What does this mean in practice? For example, an unemployed young person aged 18 to 24 is currently receiving Newstart and has been doing so for 13 weeks out of the last six months. This person would be moved onto income management under the new scheme but can be exempted if they enrol in full-time training or education or if that young person has shown that they want to work by working at least 15 hours a week for six months of the last year.

A mother in Alice Springs, for example, is currently on the parenting payment and may have been on that payment for, say, 18 months. Under this proposed scheme, she will move into income management under the scheme but can be exempted if her children are going to school and she is up to date with their child health checks and immunisations.

These are very basic reforms. They go to the real working lives of individuals. They go to the practical circumstances which people find themselves in. The overall strategy we are seeking to pursue is to get the balance of rights and responsibilities correct and to make sure that we break the cycle of long-term, chronic welfare dependency. I believe that all members of this House share that ambition for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of the Northern Territory. It is for that reason that the legislation last night also represents an important step in restoring the fairness of the Racial Discrimination Act. We have ensured that welfare reform applies to both Indigenous Australians in the Territory and to non-Indigenous Australians in the Territory, putting all Australians on an equal footing.

This is an important reform for the government. It is part of a record of reform for the government in a range of areas, most recently embracing social policy, economic policy, health policy and the economy. We intend to get on with the business of further reform.